By Rob Stafford
Unless you’ve been under a rock or deep in cryogenic sleep the past few days, chances are you’re aware of the decision to delay Land Registry privatisation. Minister for Business George Freeman said that the proposal lacked popular support among MP’s and the decision is now likely to ride upon the next administration.
May we be the first to point out, that the next administration could arrive later this year, in 2020, or anytime in between, so it’s either a short stay of execution or a victory, depending on your personal vision for where the country is heading. This in mind, we thought we do a run-down of the top 10 arguments against Land Registry privatisation.
1) Starting with a simple one, a recent poll by campaign group ‘We Own It’ (3 guesses what their stance is), revealed that 70% of the general public oppose it. In fact, only 5% of respondents to the Coalition Government’s consultation thought that privatisation would boost efficiency and effectiveness.
2) Unlike other public sector services, the Land Registry operates a monopoly service. There is little rationale for privatising a body which has no competition. We’ve seen with other monopolised services such as National Rail, privatisation rarely means a better service or competitive pricing.
3) All too rarely for any organisation, public or private sector, the Land Registry runs at a 98% customer satisfaction rating. It’s hard to see how this can be improved upon, what’s the end goal 99%, 100%? Such small margins hardly justify such a huge shake up.
4) It’s one of the few facets of government which generates a surplus. The Land Registry paid a dividend of £19.1m to the exchequer in 2014/15, coupled with a further £100m reflecting ‘over-recovery’ from customers in previous years, as a result of higher than forecast volume of transactions. In fact, the Land Registry has generated a surplus in 19 of the last 20 years.
5) This in mind, it’s extremely short-sighted of the current administration to deny future governments a much-needed source of revenue. With an ageing population and a creaking NHS, the decision to deny future governments a source of income, which generated £297.1m of revenue in 2014/15, could prove nothing short of catastrophic.
6) The human cost. The Land Registry currently employs some 4,500 staff, past experience tells us that the first step in privatisation is often job cuts. In a time when the job market is at a precarious point in its recovery, can we really afford another round of mass redundancies?
7) There is a real fear amongst conveyancers that the lack of any competition will lead to private investors holding Land Registry data to economic ransom. Not only hitting conveyancing departments up and down the country but also hitting beleaguered home buyers in the pocket.
8) The Land Registry underpins the guarantee of title for £3 trillion of property in England & Wales alone. Do we really want this in the hands of a corporation?
9) The Land Registry, in dealing with transactions, disputes and changes/updates to the register, must retain impartiality and remain free from any suggestion of a conflict of interest. This is quite simply impossible if it is privatised.
10) Transparency is crucial to identifying and dealing with corruption and tax avoidance, as well as identifying and investigating offshore ownership arrangements.